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  All night the crew huddled in their tents or buried their faces in their bedrolls, set as deep into the trireme’s hold as they could.

  When they awoke, the burning eye challenged the dawn. It formed a twin orb of red over the southern horizon while the sun rose with the smoke from the burning land.

  Mapen found no words to sing in their thrust through the waves.

  The oars had hardly pushed them southward when a river of fire burst through the mist. It ran along the coast like a crimson stream, bubbling and popping with gas and flame. The current raced northward, and reached the beach where the explorers had made camp not long after they set out to sea. The ocean hissed and bubbled where the liquid fire touched it, as if water and molten land competed for the evacuating trireme.

  It spread and spread, the fiery torrents, and when the sun fully rose, the ocean-blown wind finally revealed their source.

  The red eye capped a mountain of black stone. It bled the liquid flame out of its head and heart, splattering the land and sea with its glowing innards.

  “Steady your courage, men of Carthage,” Hanno announced when he saw the marines freeze in the face of such a mountain. “Steady onward, Helmsman.”

  Artemisia stayed silent, but unbelted her sheath.

  “You disarm yourself, Greek?” Hanno asked when he joined her at the stern.

  “Easier to swim without it,” she said.

  “You want some exercise?”

  “Better not to wear an anchor if it’s not needed.”

  “Better still to stay afloat.”

  “Exactly.”

  A great laughter, louder than before, came with an eruption of flame.

  “Come closer,” a low rumble added. It came from the same source as the laughter, and the marines pointed to a widening gash running horizontal across the mountain’s face. “Closer…”

  “We should go back,” Bostar whispered, stepping away from the rail.

  “We go south,” Hanno urged. “Jabnit, steady on. No need to outpace the waves.”

  “Yes,” the mountain rumbled. “Yes, closer.”

  Bostar swallowed his fear and remained beside the king.

  The mountain rose taller and taller, dwarfing the lands around it until it took up near the entire coast.

  Liva held Hanno’s hand.

  The fire dimmed the closer they drew, and the rumbling ceased. The mountain belched black smoke, casting a pho-darkness over the sky. But Hanno caught a glimpse of its end.

  “There,” the king said.

  Through mist and wave, the recess of a bay shone with the remnants of the cloud-breaking sun, though even these rays soon disappeared.

  “The mountain forms a peninsula,” Hanno realized.

  “A wide peninsula,” Artemisia added.

  “But a peninsula nonetheless. Stay clear of it. The waves seem tamer further out.”

  They turned the trireme deeper into the dark ocean, keeping their distance from the mountain.

  “I bid you welcome,” the rumbling voice came.

  The waves stopped their churning and the smoke fixed itself in a halo around the mountain’s glowing head. Twin cavities burst from the rock, forming burning red eyes. The horizontal crag opened into a fiery mouth with an ember-edged smile.

  “Hanno of Carthage,” the mountain said.

  “Keep rowing,” the king whispered. Then he shouted to the mountain, “You know me?”

  “I know of Hanno, king. Do you know me?”

  Hanno looked at Liva.

  “The father of the fire children. The one the Gorillae skin-changers worship,” Liva called out.

  “You know me, Princess of the Lixitae,” said the mountain.

  “How is it he speaks Punic?” Hanno asked.

  “I speak the tongue of those who worship me!” the mountain fumed. “You know me, Hanno, king!” Fire leapt like spittle out his mouth, where it sizzled against the sea.

  “The Gorillae named you Chariot of the Gods.”

  The fire eased and the mountain seemed to settle into itself, and it shook like a man of great size.

  “You know me,” it rumbled.

  “I see no chariot,” Hanno said.

  “Don’t antagonize the fire-breathing mountain,” Artemisia cautioned. “We’re halfway across the peninsula.”

  “I reach to where the heavenly chariots race and pluck them from the sky,” the mountain said. A black stone arm rose from his surface and twirled the clouds like a man stirring a cup. “Even the gods fear me and know me. Melqart and Tanit and Hercules and Zeus. What names are these? They all know the Chariot of the Gods.”

  The mountain let his hand fall in a terrific crash of stone and flame. It seemed a whole cliffside had caved in, but the mountain merely laughed.

  “Worship me, mortals,” Chariot commanded.

  “How dare you defy the name of Melqart! Tanit forbid and all the gods defy you!” Aba shouted.

  “What have these gods done for you?”

  “They are our gods!”

  “The Chariot of the Gods defies them, yet see him standing before you. Worship me, and receive the gifts the gods cannot provide.”

  A hawk circled overhead, cawing.

  Bostar pulled back an arrow but the hawk rose with a sudden gust of hot air, where it circled the rings of smoke above Chariot’s head.

  “You have seen my gifts before,” the mountain continued.

  “The Gorillae worship you,” Hanno said.

  “Yes, and they were given gifts. Such great gifts.”

  A crack opened in Chariot’s base, spewing liquid fire. It rose and solidified like melted copper, and formed the shape of a man.

  “I crafted them new skins that could shift and move like my own flesh,” the mountain said, and lifted the fire.

  The glowing statue of a man melted and reformed into the shapes of many animals.

  “Or would you prefer wealth, Hanno?” the mountain asked.

  The glowing man burst apart. In its place lay a mass of shimmering gold. It fell like the sparks of the mountain’s many fires, splashing into the sea.

  “I can provide all these things. But I demand worship,” Chariot said.

  Hanno glanced at the edge of the mountain. They had perhaps a mile left to reach the bay. Though the rowers never ceased, the wind had stopped, and the current slowed their progress.

  Still, they had rounded Chariot’s promontory far enough to see the bay’s full expanse, and the island in its middle. The island seemed to defy the smoke with its sun-kissed sand. Thick forest covered it where its wide beach ended.

  “There is no going further,” the mountain warned. “Worship me and I will craft the forces you require.”

  Black pillars protruded from Chariot’s smoking sides. They sprouted arms and legs and gathered into a phalanx armed with glistening pikes. More stone in the shapes of triremes rose from the sea, bursting forth in a cloud of steam like sunken ships called back to the surface.

  Shadows fell over the mountain’s stone army and navy, dancing in the space between the waiting forces.

  “I have the might to give Carthage all the wealth of Persia if you wish. I have the might to send Hanno’s name to the makers of silk. I have the might to make Hanno the mapper of the world, and its supreme king. All you must do is worship my name,” Chariot called.

  “Hanno, Hanno,” Liva cautioned, tugging on his arm. “Don’t listen to it. This mountain is a creature of destruction.”

  “And rebirth!” shouted Chariot. “I am a creature of change. You must burn away the past to make the future. Is this not true, oh Princess of the Lixitae? Did you not burn your heritage to forge your new adventure? Did you, Hanno, King, not burn the name of your father to raise up your own?”

  “How do you know of my father?” Hanno asked.

  “I am the maker of the Horns around me! I am the crafter and burner. The Horn of the West saw your father. We saw your rejection of his name, as did Liva.”

  “I did not dishonor my father. I rejected his shame.”

  “Burn your father! Burn your past and burn all that stands between you and your desires. Is this not the way of Hanno, King? Is this not the way of Liva, Queen? If you submit to my fire, you will have all things burned save that for which you dream.”

  “If you worship destruction then that’s all you’ll find, Hanno,” Liva warned.

  Hanno glanced at his still incomplete map. He saw the many places where his family’s enemies resided. He imagined all he could do if he had the power Chariot offered. The map burned in his mind’s eye. But it was that very image, the thought of ravaging triremes destroying the coastal ports all along the Mediterranean, be they his or not, that banished the temptation.

  The king shook the image free from his thoughts.

  “I decline, Chariot,” Hanno answered.

  “What?” the mountain grumbled.

  “I decline. We’ll be on our way, and find our fortune beyond.”

  “There is no beyond.”

  “You’re not the first object of stone to tell me that.”

  “I am not some construct of Hercules,” Chariot fumed. “I have smashed denizens of Baal Hammon and uprisings of Hades!”

  Fires sprouted all along the mountainside, echoing Chariot’s rage.

  “You shall see your wife if you venture further, Hanno, King of Carthage. This is the prophecy of both the Horn of the West and the Chariot of the Gods!” the mountain roared. “Accept my offer or accept this doom!”

  “Helmsman, forward full,” Hanno ordered.

  Jabnit played the pipe and the sails were pulled taught. The rowers beat against the waves, propelling the trireme toward the distant island.

  “You will not defy the Chariot of the Gods!” cried the mountain.

  Chariot slammed his blazing arm into the water, causing a surging current to press against the trireme’s hull. The bow rose and the oarsmen pushed, but the great wave took hold of the ship and pulled it backward, where the wave crested in a cataclysmic spray of salt and steam after passing beneath the hull.

  “Turn deeper!” Hanno commanded.

  Artemisia shoved against the port rudder in time to avoid a second wave. But the current increased the deeper they went, until it was all the rowers and sails could do to keep the ship stationary.

  “Push, push!” Hanno urged.

  “The waves are too high,” Artemisia warned.

  A whitecap crashed against the starboard rail, washing over the deck and toppling half a dozen marines. They collected themselves just in time to find a hold when another wave half-drowned the starboard hull.

  “We need to get to shore,” Artemisia said.

  “Yes, come closer! Closer and bow before me!” the mountain boomed.

  “We go to shallow water, we’ll get near him,” Liva pointed out.

  “We stay here we capsize,” said the helmsman. “Maybe the mountain will let us turn back.”

  “No! We go forward. We continue,” Hanno urged. “That island is our destination. We make it there, we’re safe.”

  All grimaced at the mountain between them and their goal.

  “I don’t know if we can make it, Hanno,” Liva worried.

  “Don’t say that. Don’t even think that,” Hanno said. “Ready the sails and prime your courage!”

  The king clambered atop the mast supports and addressed the crew. “You think the sky itself a barrier? Half the world could come down upon us and I would still press on!” Hanno shouted. “I have not traveled beyond the world and the limits of its creators to stop at the belchings of a furnace!”

  The crew paused to hear, holding fast to their oars and ropes and doing their best to ignore the burning menace rearing over the clouds.

  “If you think we shall stop here then you don’t know me!” Hanno declared, and drew his sword. “Chariot of the Gods! I, Hanno, King of Carthage, defy you! Artemisia, turn us to shore and let’s put this mountain in our wake.”

  “All ahead!” Artemisia ordered. She pushed against the starboard rudder while Hanno manned the port.

  “So be it!” Chariot of the Gods boomed.

  A landslide of stone came off his body and splashed into the sea, spawning a gauntlet of waves.

  They smashed against the amber-studded hull while Artemisia and Hanno titled and turned the bow. Bostar and Liva pulled on the sail and Fierel cheered them on while Mapen helped his mother pray and Jabnit belted out the tune.

  The turn of the bay edged ever closer when the waves rose one last time, propelling Chariot’s stone triremes like a volley of spears. They sped toward Hanno while stone marines readied their long pikes along the decks.

  “Bostar, with me!” Hanno commanded, and drew his sword.

  The bowman handed off the rope to Barca and let loose at the oncoming ships. He struck a pikeman in the head, shattering the stone, and hit two more without pause.

  Hanno lowered the catapult arm with the help of his marines, and loaded the stone ammunition. They launched at the oncoming ships, and reloaded while Hanno returned to the stern.

  “Don’t ram them!” Hanno warned.

  “You think I’m an idiot?” Artemisia replied.

  The ships closed, but the choppy waters kept them separated. With Hanno and Artemisia at the rudders, Hanno’s trireme eased toward a gap between the stone vessels.

  “Oars in!” Hanno ordered.

  The Carthaginian ram struck the thin, stone oars and snapped them in half. They battered the wooden hull while the black pikemen hurled their weapons. But the soldiers were too slow, and Hanno’s marines threw their own javelins, shattering the stone creatures before slipping safely past their sterns.

  “Oars out!” Hanno commanded, and the trireme resumed its course to the island.

  The mountain lowered his hand once more, and once more the waves rose high.

  “To port, to port!” Hanno ordered.

  The trireme turned against the wave, surfing its edge and continuing onward. The current propelled the ship toward the island, but also closer to the Chariot of the Gods.

  Spouts of liquid stone erupted from the shore while miniature islands rose from the sea.

  Hanno and the Greek pushed and called, signaling the oars to turn to port, then starboard, and full reverse, maneuvering around the many obstacles.

  When a stone trireme rose from the bubbling sea ahead of them, Hanno ordered the rowers, “Ramming speed!”

  The ship smashed into the half-formed vessel, cracking it in two with a burst of hidden flame.

  Fires licked across the deck. The bow sunk against a coming wave and splashed free, the fires extinguished, with nothing but open ocean between the horn and the island.

  The Chariot of the Gods roared with fury and slammed his stony arm into the sea. The wave served only to push the trireme further toward the island, though, and the crew cheered their escape.

  Hanno glared at the fuming crag, setting his arms upon his waist and sharing not in the exultations.

  “What downs you, king?” Bostar asked. “We’ve made it passed! Onward we go!”

  “Turn the ship around,” Hanno commanded.

 

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Thanks for reading! New chapters will be added MWF. Please rank and review. If you would like to support my writing, please consider donating through Royal Road or supporting me via Patreon. I also have books available on Amazon, author name David D. Hammons, if you would like to read more of my work.


About the author

DavidDHammons

Bio: I once snuck into a castle. It wasn’t a terribly good castle. In fact it was quite old and broken, but it had a shut door I wasn’t supposed to go through. Yet through it I went. I climbed an ancient wall I shouldn’t have climbed, wandered across borders without using the approved path, and was handed a silver trophy for a contest I wasn’t allowed to enter. From my time growing up in the Missouri Ozarks to my travels abroad, I couldn’t help going places and doing things I probably shouldn’t. Perhaps more of those doors needed 'Keep Out' signs, or if they did have signs they should have been locked, and if they had been locked they shouldn’t have hidden such amazing things that made going through them so worthwhile. I currently live in Springfield, Missouri, where I teach Marketing, study History, and, alongside my wonderful wife, make a valiant attempt at passing through the doorway of writing.

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